If you've ever lived in Mexico, the Southwest, or California, you’ve likely come across the brightly colored drinkable yogurts that are sold in every bodega from Point Reyes to Juárez. They come in flavors like mango, fresa, and piña colada, and are usually packaged in bottles approximately the color of neon tubing. However, once you get past the cartoony marketing scheme, these beverages are actually quite tasty; I began frequently drinking them myself while living in the Mission District of San Francisco.
Though Saborico was my first run-in with drinkable yogurt, since then I have discovered there exists a much healthier variety than these sugar-laden treats. It is called kefir, and was originally consumed by the nomadic shepherding tribes of the northern Caucasus Mountains. Long heralded for its almost unbelievable health benefits, kefir is loaded with probiotics, the good-for-you type of bacteria. Probiotics' benefits range from increasing intestinal flora, which helps with digestion, synthesizing B vitamins, reducing harmful bacteria in the digestive track, and even lessening the effects of some food allergies. "While the serious yogurt tang might take some getting used to, everyone found both of these brands' offerings to be pretty darn delicious."
My team and I taste-tested three flavors of lactose-free Cow’s Milk Kefir from Green Valley Organics and three flavors of Goat's milk Kefir from Redwood Hill in the hopes that this miracle beverage would taste as good as it would make us feel. While the serious yogurt tang might take some getting used to, everyone found both of these brands' offerings to be pretty darn delicious.
Green Valley Organics' cow’s milk kefir comes in plain, strawberry, and blueberry flavors and I surprisingly enjoyed the plain most of all. All three flavors boasted a wonderful richness, a pleasantly mild acidity, and a bit of natural sweetness, though naturally the fruity flavors were sweeter than the plain. Green Valley Organic's kefir averages 2.6 billion live probiotics per gram, and their milk comes from a third-generation family farm where the cows graze on 1,700 acres of pasture in Sonoma County, California. I could see throwing some of the plain variety into a blender with freshly cut fruit, a touch of honey and a spoonful of peanut butter for a delicious morning smoothie.
Redwood Hill, the producer of the goat's milk kefir, is a celebrated goat dairy located in Sebastopol, California. It has been run by the Bice family since 1968; the Bices' award-winning heard of goats produces truly top-quality milk. Like Green Valley, Redwood Hill's kefir also comes in plain and two flavored varieties, and as with the cow’s milk kefirs, I preferred the plain. It was incredibly thick and creamy with hints of minerality and had a bit more acidic tang (that infamous "goaty" taste) than the Green Valley. I liked this kefir so much that I've actually begun drinking a small glass every morning prior to my usual coffee or tea routine.
To confirm that I wasn't just buying into a lot of unwarranted hype about the benefits of kefir, I decided to ask for my doctor’s opinion. He confirmed that the stuff is fantastic for your system, and suggested I drink only the plain to cut down on sugar content. So there you have it: a miracle beverage made from simple ingredients and tastes delicious…it’s almost too good to be true.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.